Nick and Connor discuss Bill Peters’s future as a head coach, what the Calgary Flames should do, who should take home the Vezina Trophy and Selke Trophy, as well as revisit the San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights advancing to the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Entering Wednesday night the Tampa Bay Lightning held a 2-1 series lead over the New Jersey Devils and after leading most of the game, 2-1, it was only fitting that Nikita Kucherov’s empty net goal at 18:52 of the third period reflected what the game and the series would be— 3-1, in favor of Tampa.
Yes, the Lightning stole Game 4 on the road at Prudential Center and the Bolts will have a chance to finish the Devils in Game 5 on home ice.
It didn’t take long for the first penalty of the game to be called. In fact, it only took 34 seconds. Taylor Hall was sent to the penalty box with a minor penalty for hooking Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point. The Lightning did not convert on the ensuing power play and the Devils made the kill without their best player on the ice.
Alex Killorn got his name on the event sheet as a result of hooking New Jersey forward, Marcus Johansson, 7:47 into the first period providing the Devils with their first power play of the night. Cedric Paquette made his way to the sin bin shortly thereafter for tripping Hall and gave New Jersey a 5-on-3 power play at 8:12.
It only took 11 seconds for the Devils to convert on the two-man advantage.
Will Butcher (2) and Hall (4) had the assists on Palmieri’s power play goal that made it 1-0 New Jersey.
Not long after, the Lightning responded with a goal of their own to tie the game, 1-1, at 11:30 of the first period.
J.T. Miller (1) rushed on a breakout and sent a pass to Steven Stamkos who dropped it back to Kucherov. With Miller heading for the goal, Kucherov lobbed the puck to his linemate and Miller sent a shot high and past Schneider’s blocker side.
Kucherov (5) and Stamkos (4) notched the assists on the goal and Tampa surged in momentum.
Cory Conacher thought he had his first goal of the postseason when he beat Schneider cleanly on the glove side, but Devils head coach, John Hynes, challenged the call on the ice and the refs reviewed the play entering the zone for offside.
After review, the ruling on the ice was reversed and the score remained tied, 1-1. Hynes’s coach’s challenge was successful.
But the Lightning had already got the ball rolling on a momentum swing and nonetheless, capitalized on their next great scoring chance as Kucherov (3) sent a shot past Schneider’s glove side to put the Bolts ahead for the first time in the game, 2-1. Braydon Coburn (1) and Miller (2) had the primary and secondary assists, respectively.
Late in the first period, Kucherov was the topic of controversy as he caught Sami Vatanen without the puck in what some may view as a shoulder-to-shoulder check, while Devils fans may see otherwise. There was no penalty called on the play and Hynes was irate behind New Jersey’s bench as Vatanen skated off the ice and left the game with an upper body injury.
It’s hard to tell via replay whether or not Vatanen’s head is the point of contact at all, but regardless of whether or not it was the principal point of contact— given the precedent set this postseason by Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty’s one-game suspension for his hit on Vegas Golden Knights forward, William Carrier— Kucherov should expect something from the league.
Once the blood got boiling as a result of Kucherov’s hit, both teams were riled up the rest of the night.
Lightning forward, Alex Killorn, hit New Jersey defender, Ben Lovejoy, from behind and was assessed a minor penalty for boarding at 16:49 of the first period. As a result of the blatant hit to the numbers, a scrum ensued prior to Killorn’s exit from the ice to the penalty box.
This scrum mentality continued a couple of minutes later when a stoppage in play resulted in every player squaring off with an opponent. New Jersey’s Miles Wood and Blake Coleman, as well as, Tampa’s Anton Stralman, were given roughing minors and the Lightning ended up on the power play with less than a minute to go in the first period.
After 20 minutes of play, the Lightning led the Devils, 2-1, on the scoreboard while New Jersey led, 13-12, in shots on goal. New Jersey had a slight edge in blocked shots (2-1) and hits (9-6) and was 1/3 on the power play through the end of the first period. Tampa was 0/2 on the man advantage.
Midway through the second period, Hall tripped up Stralman and the Bolts went back on the power play until Kucherov’s ensuing holding minor penalty ended the run of 5-on-4 hockey at 11:28. Less than 20 seconds of 4-on-4 hockey occurred and Hall was released from the box, giving New Jersey a shorter than usual power play.
Brayden Point followed up with the next penalty in the game after he bumped into Schneider and got sent to the sin bin for goaltender interference about three minutes later.
Finally, Stefan Noesen got his name on the event sheet for high-sticking Point at 18:38 of the second period.
Through 40 minutes of play, the score remained 2-1, Tampa. The Lightning led in shots on goal (24-18) and blocked shots (7-6), while the Devils led in hits (18-12), takeaways (8-7), giveaways (8-5) and faceoff win percentage (63-38). The Bolts were 0/4 with the man advantage and the Devils were 1/5 on the power play.
Miller slashed Hall at 7:18 of the third period. New Jersey didn’t get anything going on the power play.
Andy Greene tripped Stamkos at 12:52 of the third period. Once again, the Lightning didn’t get anything going with their special teams.
Finally, with Schneider pulled for an extra skater, Tampa put away the game with an empty net goal courtesy of Kucherov (4) at 18:52. Miller (3) had the only assist on the goal that put the Bolts up 3-1 in the game and in the series.
Tampa finished the night leading in shots on goal (37-28), but the Devils led in just about every other stat— hits (25-19), giveaways (11-5), faceoff win% (59-41) and even had a power play goal (1/6 on the night). The Lightning didn’t bring the thunder on any of their power play opportunities and finished the night 0/5.
Game 5 is scheduled for Saturday afternoon at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida. Puck drop is expected to be a shortly after 3 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can tune in on NBC/NBCSN (check your local listings, because it appears they’re going to do what they did when New Jersey and Tampa were playing at the same time as Colorado and Nashville about a week ago). Fans in Canada can tune in on SN360 or TVAS2.
James Neal played the role of Mr. Clutch in the regular season— scoring the first goal in Vegas Golden Knights history— and it seems he’s found his clutch-touch once again. Neal’s goal late in the third period put the Golden Knights ahead of the Los Angeles Kings for the first time in Game 3 and it only took fellow teammate, William Karlsson, 21 seconds to add an insurance goal.
That insurance goal came in handy when the Kings scored with the goalie pulled, but ultimately it was too little, too late.
Vegas beat Los Angeles, 3-2, on Sunday night at Staples Center and the Golden Knights are now one win away from advancing to the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Drew Doughty was back in Los Angeles’s lineup after serving his one-game suspension for an illegal hit to the head of Golden Knights forward, William Carrier, in Game 1. David Perron was inserted into Vegas’s lineup in place of Tomas Tatar, who sat out on Sunday as a healthy scratch.
The league’s newest rivalry got off to a quick-tempered start with five straight combined penalties before the game’s first goal in the first period at Staples Center.
Los Angeles forward, Kyle Clifford, tripped up Golden Knights defenseman, Shea Theodore, 5:33 into the first period and Vegas went on their first power play of the night. Shortly after the power play expired, it was the Golden Knights who were guilty of the next infraction— a bench minor penalty for too many men on the ice.
Whereas Clifford and Theodore exchanged some words and went their own way after the first penalty was called, this time, William Carrier and Clifford got involved in a minor scuffle after the whistle.
Though the gloves came off, Carrier and Clifford were assessed matching minors for roughing to coincide with the too many men penalty against Vegas at 7:35 of the first period. Los Angeles would get their first chance of the night on the power play.
The Kings were on the power play for all of six seconds until Dustin Brown tripped Vegas blue liner, Brayden McNabb, and just like that it was 4-on-4 hockey, with the Golden Knights outshooting the Kings (4-1) and the Kings leading in the physical department (Los Angeles had 11 hits nearly eight minutes into the game).
Finally, at 13:17 of the first period, Alex Iafallo (1) roofed a shot past Fleury that went so quick in-and-out of the net at first glance that the refs had waved off the goal. After review, video replay confirmed Iafallo’s first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal and the Kings had their first lead in the series— let alone their first 5-on-5 goal this postseason.
Iafallo’s goal was assisted by Anze Kopitar (1) and Brown (1).
After 20 minutes of play, Los Angeles was leading 1-0. Shots on goal were even at eight aside, with the Golden Knights barely leading in blocked shots (7-6). The Kings, on the other hand, led in hits (28-13), takeaways (2-1), giveaways (5-0) and dominated the faceoff dot, winning 59% of the faceoffs in the first period.
Both Vegas and Los Angeles were 0/2 on the power play after one period.
The game’s intensity continued through the second period as Fleury and Quick made save after save.
Neal picked up a slashing minor at 6:19 of the second period and the Kings were not able to convert on the man advantage.
Almost ten minutes later, after Kopitar had knocked down Game 2’s double overtime game-winning goal scorer, Erik Haula, the Golden Knights forward reciprocated by butt-ending Kopitar in the face. Neither of the refs penalized Haula, nor was there any indication that they had seen what occurred, but thanks to the power that is television, replay exists and Los Angeles head coach, John Stevens, was not pleased.
Oscar Fantenberg shot the puck out of play at 17:57 of the second period and was handed a delay of game minor penalty. The Kings killed off the ensuing penalty and went on the power play with 1.1 seconds left in the period after Golden Knights forward, Jonathan Marchessault, was guilty of high-sticking Los Angeles defenseman, Drew Doughty.
Though the power play carried into the third period, the Kings were unable to convert on the man advantage.
A little over a minute later, Kings defenseman, Jake Muzzin, tripped Vegas’s regular season leading goal scorer, William Karlsson, and served two minutes in the penalty box.
Marchessault had a chance on a break-in on the ensuing power play that went by the wayside after ringing the post and play continued as normal.
It wasn’t until 14:23 of the third period that either team was able to break the tie, but it was then that Neal skated up along the right wall, got to about the faceoff dot in the offensive zone and fired a shot through Quick’s five-hole to give the Golden Knights their first lead of the night and make it 2-1.
A mere 21 seconds later, Reilly Smith won a battle off a faceoff and threw the puck to an excited Karlsson (1) waiting in the low slot to one-time it past Quick and give Vegas a 3-1 lead. Not only was it 21 seconds later, but the two goals for the Golden Knights came on consecutive shots.
Just 13 seconds after Vegas went up by two goals, Perron was guilty of tripping Doughty and the Kings had their biggest power play chance of the night with almost five minutes remaining in regulation. It also helped that, despite the Golden Knights having scored back-to-back goals, the Kings were outshooting Vegas in the game, 36-25 at 14:57 of the third period.
But with a little over two minutes remaining in regulation, Los Angeles had yet to convert on the man advantage, so while the Golden Knights resumed full-strength action, Stevens pulled his goaltender for an extra skater.
The move gave the Kings a spark of life as Kopitar (1) redirected a shot from Fantenberg to cut the lead in half and make it a 3-2 game.
Smith had failed to clear the puck out of the defensive zone before Fantenberg got to the puck and threw it towards the goal, where Kopitar was screening Fleury and ultimately changed the direction of the vulcanized rubber biscuit. Fantenberg (1) picked up the only assist on Kopitar’s goal.
Quick skated to the Los Angeles bench once again with about a minute left in regulation, but the Kings were not able to score again on Fleury with the extra attacker.
With the final horn the Golden Knights secured a 3-0 series lead by virtue of a 3-2 win on road ice in Game 3. Vegas became the first team to win their 1st three postseason games as a franchise since the 1996 Florida Panthers did just that.
In fact, Vegas is only the 3rd team in NHL history to win their first three Stanley Cup Playoff games, joining the 1996 Panthers (3-0) and 1970 Pittsburgh Penguins (4-0), as well as the first team to do so in its inaugural season.
Despite leading in shots on goal (39-26), blocked shots (19-18) and hits (45-40), the Los Angeles Kings dropped Game 3 on home ice and have yet to win a playoff game at home since they raised the Cup in Game 5 of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final at Staples Center in June 2014.
Neither team was successful on the power play Sunday night, as the Golden Knights finished Game 3 0/4 and the Kings went 0/5 on the man advantage.
Game 4 is set for Tuesday night at Staples Center, where the Golden Knights will have a chance to sweep the Kings on the road. Puck drop is expected a little after 10:30 p.m. ET and fans interested in catching the action can tune to NBCSN in the United States and CBC or TVAS in Canada outside of the local markets.
Only four teams in NHL history have ever come back from being down in a series 3-0. The 2014 Los Angeles Kings were the most recent team to rally from a 3-0 series deficit (against the San Jose Sharks) and win it in seven games.
Los Angeles has been outscored through three games in this series by a combined score of 5-3.
Fleury stopped all 30 shots he faced en route to his 11th career Stanley Cup Playoff shutout, while Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick made 27 saves on 28 shots against for a .964 save percentage.
Say what you want about the pregame festivities at T-Mobile Arena prior to puck drop in Game 1 of the Vegas Golden Knights and Los Angeles Kings’s First Round series, but one thing’s for certain— Vegas loves hockey and a good show.
The sports town just can’t get enough of its NHL franchise.
Leading up to the start of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs in Sin City, fans outside the arena could get a free Golden Knights tattoo— the real kind, not one of those temporary ones that wash off in the shower.
But after the fracas of fun going on outside T-Mobile Arena, it was time for hockey.
Just over three minutes into the game, Vegas blue liner, Shea Theodore (1), fired a slap shot past Quick and gave the Golden Knights a 1-0 lead and the home crowd of 18,479 fans— the largest crowd in the franchise’s short history— erupted. Tomas Nosek (1) had the lone assist on the goal at 3:23 of the 1st period.
Theodore’s third career Stanley Cup Playoff goal proved to be enough for the rest of the night, as the Kings couldn’t beat Fleury.
Both teams swapped minor penalties (Brayden McNabb at 4:21 for hooking Tyler Toffoli and Jeff Carter at 12:47 for holding the stick William Karlsson) and the Kings rallied while Vegas went without a shot on goal for about eight minutes.
Toffoli continued to take a beating in the first period as Nosek caught him along the wall. Nosek was assessed a minor penalty for boarding at 15:46 of the period.
The Golden Knights penalty kill was successful and time ticked down to the end of the first period.
After twenty minutes of play, Vegas led 1-0 and Los Angeles led in shots on goal, 12-8. The Kings also dominated in hits (27-19) and blocked shots (4-3). Faceoffs were almost even with the Golden Knights having won 55 percent of the first period’s faceoff dot action. The Kings were 0/2 on the power play and Vegas was 0/1.
Los Angeles had tremendous control on the power play that resulted in a shot that missed the net to the right of Fleury. The puck caromed off the boards and landed on Dustin Brown’s stick with Fleury in desperation. Brown sent the puck wide right of the far post with the majority of the net open. Anze Kopitar found the loose puck but was quickly stripped of any scoring chances by a Golden Knights player.
The Kings were then guilty of the game’s next two penalties with Trevor Lewis having knocked over Colin Miller in front of Fleury without a puck in sight at 10:30 of the second period and Brown having bumped into Fleury at 15:20. Both were minor penalties for interference with the latter of the goaltender interference kind.
Vegas was unable to convert on either power play.
After two periods, the Golden Knights held onto their 1-0 lead and trailed Los Angeles in shots on goal, 20-19. The Kings led in hits 52-48 while Vegas continued to control the faceoff circle, winning 54% of faceoffs through 40 minutes of game action.
William Carrier was caught up high on a hit by Drew Doughty in the third period, but was able to skate back to the Golden Knights bench. Carrier did not immediately go back to the locker room until a concussion spotter presumably requested he go through protocol.
In the waning minutes of the game, Fleury continued to stand tall and earned his 63rd career playoff win and 11th postseason shutout. Both are the most among active NHL goaltenders.
Los Angeles finished the night leading in shots on goal (30-28), hits (68-59) and blocked shots (22-13). Neither team was able to convert on the power play as both teams went 0/3 on the man advantage.
The Golden Knights were 34-5-2 in the regular season when scoring first and are now 1-0 when scoring first in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Vegas takes the 1-0 series lead into Game 2 at T-Mobile Arena on Friday night.
Viewers outside of the local markets in the United States can tune in at 10:00 p.m. ET to NBCSN, while fans in Canada can tune to CBC or TVAS to catch the action.
Derick Brassard was briefly a Golden Knight. Yes, he was flipped from Ottawa to Vegas to Pittsburgh as part of Friday’s three-team trade and technically speaking, he never suited up for Vegas so it doesn’t actually count, but Brassard was once a Golden Knight.
Now, as a result of the Brassard trade, Ryan Reaves is the newest player in Vegas.
Through 60 games (entering Friday), the Vegas Golden Knights are still 1st in the Pacific Division. William Karlsson is in the midst of a career year, Marc-Andre Fleury and James Neal probably won’t be traded at the deadline like everyone thought they would and there’s a real possibility this whole “Cup in One” mantra actually works out.
Thanks in part to the crazy scheduling this time of year– between the NHL, the Winter Games in PyeongChang, the upcoming trade deadline on Monday and much, much more– I was finally able to squeeze in the time to update Golden Knights projections with 22 games remaining in their schedule.
The only problem is that they’ve now played Game 61 of 82 and added Ryan Reaves. So basically, here’s everything I had before anything that happened on Friday.
I’ll try to come up with some projections for Reaves and any other potential acquisitions Vegas makes between now and the deadline, but there’s no promises. Every year around the deadline my database needs constant updating and as a result some things get bogged down until I physically go through every stat.
I do get around to it (eventually) and these players will be reflected in any subsequent projection posts.
Anyway, on with the show…
The Golden Knights aren’t good. They’re great.
Check out the latest forecast in the charts below. Keep in mind, as always, that anything that sounds ridiculous is Microsoft Excel’s fault. I’m just kidding. There are always outliers and unrealistic projections. Alas, these are merely utopian, Excel driven, guesses.
Standard disclaimer, my degree is in communication– not math or #fancystats.
Vegas Golden Knights Projections Through 60 Games (22 Games Remaining)
The sensational season continues and down the stretch as Erik Haula, Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, Neal, David Perron and Reilly Smith are all expected to amass somewhere around 60-points (or more).
Colin Miller‘s emergence as a top defenseman in the Western Conference continues as he nears the 40-point plateau by seasons end. Also, look at Shea Theodore fitting right in as a top-4 quality defenseman just entering his prime. Miller, Nate Schmidt and Theodore for years to come in Vegas should mean many great things.
Meanwhile, Fleury’s incredible run in goal begins to cool off just a little. His goals against average begins to reflect an “average” year for Fleury, which– granted– is still better than a lot of goaltenders in the NHL. Fleury’s save percentage should be just fine down the stretch– if not potentially league-leading.
I may not get to watch hockey on Tuesday nights, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Fortunately for you, there’s a whopping 11 games on the schedule to choose from, so surely one game strikes your fancy.
Like most nights, the action starts at 7 p.m. with four puck drops (Anaheim at Buffalo, Vegas at Pittsburgh [SN1/TVAS], Philadelphia at Carolina and Washington at Columbus), followed half an hour later by three more (New Jersey at Ottawa [RDS], Boston at Detroit and Vancouver at Florida). The next two games (Minnesota at St. Louis [NBCSN] and Arizona at Winnipeg) get started at 8 p.m., with Calgary at Chicago waiting 30 minutes before getting underway. Finally, San Jose at Colorado closes out the night with their tilt at 9 p.m. All times Eastern.
What a slate of games! There’s potential for the playoff picture to look wildly different Wednesday morning. As for matchups that have caught my eye…
- Vegas at Pittsburgh: Welcome home Flower. Welcome home.
- Boston at Detroit: Where are the Original Six fans at?
- Minnesota at St. Louis: D Nate Prosser played exactly one game this season with the Blues before being placed on waivers. Was there any doubt the Wild would pick him up?
Of course, that list ignores important fixtures like Philly at Carolina, Washington at Columbus, Calgary at Chicago and San Jose at Colorado – all of which should be competitive matchups between teams either currently qualifying for the playoffs or trying to climb the table.
In an effort to appease both lists, I think its clear we have to make the trip to Pittsburgh to take in G Marc-Andre Fleury‘s return.
Fleury’s tenure in Pittsburgh began when he was selected with the first-overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft from the QMJHL’s Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.
Though he was sent back to Nova Scotia after playing 21 games with the Pens to complete his final year of junior eligibility, Fleury had certainly impressed with his .896 save percentage and 3.64 GAA. He made 46 saves in his NHL debut and posted a shutout in only his sixth professional game.
Pittsburgh knew it had made a good choice in trading RW Mikael Samuelsson to Florida for the pick. I mean, Samuelsson only won one Stanley Cup in his career (ironically, against the Penguins in 2008). Fleury has won three.
It seems like basic math to me.
After joining Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the 2004 Calder Cup playoffs, he remained in the AHL for the entire 2004-’05 season before laying claim to Pittsburgh’s starting position a year later.
2005-’06 wasn’t exactly a stellar year for the Penguins – in fact, quite the opposite. Pittsburgh finished dead last in the Eastern Conference and only a point ahead of St. Louis – the worst team in the league. However, Fleury showed improvement from his first stint in the world’s top hockey league, posting a .898 save percentage and 3.25 GAA.
It didn’t take long for the Pens to assume the form we’ve come to expect. Behind a season .906 save percentage and 2.83 GAA, Fleury – who posted a 40-16-9 record – qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time of his career in 2007. The postseason ended almost as quickly as it began (Ottawa needed only five games to advance to the Eastern Semifinals), but Fleury and the Pens were establishing themselves among the league’s best teams.
That climb up the league table was officially realized during the 2007-’08 season when Fleury, with a career-best .921 save percentage and 2.33 GAA, led Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1992. Though Detroit was able to win its 11th Stanley Cup in franchise history, Fleury performed marvelously by posting a .933 save percentage and 1.97 GAA in the playoffs – by far the best marks of his postseason career.
Of course, the Penguins were able to exact revenge against the Red Wings only a year later. Perhaps the most memorable play from that June 12, 2009 Game 7 in Detroit occurred with two seconds remaining on the clock. D Nicklas Lidstrom, himself a four-time Stanley Cup champion and winner of the 2002 Conn Smythe Trophy, had the opportunity to beat Fleury near side to tie the game at 2-2 and force a Cup-clinching sudden-death overtime, but Flower flopped in that direction just in time for his 23rd save of the game, securing the Penguins’ third championship and Pittsburgh’s second of the year (the Steelers had won their sixth Super Bowl four months earlier on February 1).
From 2009-’10 to 2014-’15, the Penguins toiled away to limited playoff success considering the talent on their roster. Though some would rightly say Fleury was part of the problem during those seasons, that’s not to say he didn’t have incredible performances. In fact, he managed a whopping 10 shutouts during the 2014-’15 season, a career-high that led the league that season.
I’d argue all those shutouts were a major reason for the resurgence of Flower Power in Pittsburgh in the 2015′-16 season. That year, Fleury matched his current career-high .921 save percentage and set a new career-best 2.29 GAA in the regular season.
The emphasis on regular season is important here, because that’s when Fleury’s tenure in Pittsburgh began to take a turn. Just as we began with Fleury as a rookie netminder, the emergence of rookie G Matthew Murray during the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs is a major reason the Sorel, Quebec native now calls the desert home.
With Fleury sidelined with a concussion suffered during the regular season, Murray exploded onto the scene to lead the Penguins to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning. In Game 4, Fleury was able to take the ice for the third period with Pittsburgh trailing 4-0. The goalie swap rejuvenated the skaters, inspiring a comeback that fell one goal short of forcing overtime.
Head Coach Mike Sullivan saw this as an opportunity to return the crease to his starter as well as continue the positive energy from Game 4. Instead, Fleury laid an egg in Game 5, allowing three goals in regulation and the game-winner only 53 seconds into overtime.
With the Pens trailing the series 3-2, Sullivan went back to Murray in Game 6. The renewed nod of confidence is all the youngster needed, as he led Pittsburgh past the Lightning in Games 6 and 7 against the Lightning as well as a Stanley Cup Finals victory against the San Jose Sharks.
With Murray starting 47 games in the 2016-’17 to Fleury’s 34, the Flower Power Era in Pittsburgh had effectively come to a close – but not without one last ride.
Just like a Fleury injury opened the door for Murray to earn playoff starts, the youngster suffered a non-contact ailment before Game 1 of the First Round against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Enter Fleury, who needed only five games to knock off the Jackets, including a dominant 49-save performance in the series clincher.
Fleury would continue to be a stellar force in the Eastern Semifinals against the rival Washington Capitals, leading the Pens to a seven-game victory. The most memorable occurrence of the series involving Fleury wasn’t exactly his save against W Alex Ovechkin in Game 7, but his celebration afterwards.
He’s… uh… playing an electric guitar, kids.
However, Fleury’s Penguins career would last only three more games. He was pulled in Game 3 of the Eastern Finals against the Ottawa Senators after allowing four first period goals in 12:52 of action. Murray returned to the crease to lead Pittsburgh to a second-consecutive Stanley Cup Finals after a double-overtime victory in Game 7, as well as another championship following a six-game series against the Nashville Predators.
But this most recent success is all Vegas General Manager George McPhee needed to convince him who his first goaltender in franchise history was going to be. With Pittsburgh wanting to officially deed the crease to Murray, General Manager Jim Rutherford left Fleury exposed to the Expansion Draft and shipped his second-round pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft to the Golden Knights to ensure Fleury would be selected.
With the exception of a concussion that kept the goaltender off the ice for two months, just about everything has gone 35-13-4 Vegas and Fleury’s way in the Knights’ inaugural season. Should he continue playing like he is, Fleury is in line for the best save percentage of his career (currently a .939) as well as an unbelievable 1.84 GAA – also a potential career-best mark.
Over their past four games, the Golden Knights gave earned a 3-1-0 record. 15-4-2 Fleury has been in net for all three victories and played well, posting a .917 save percentage and 2.29 GAA.
However, I’ve been most impressed with the effort of the defense playing in front of him over this run. Led by the stellar efforts of D Deryk Engelland (three blocks and 1.5 hits per game over this run) and D Nate Schmidt (six takeaways in his last four games), Vegas has allowed only 29.75 shots against per game, the seventh-best mark in the NHL since January 30.
With a win tonight, Vegas – who already leads the Pacific Division and the Western Conference – can claim the top spot in the NHL with 76 points, one more than Tampa Bay in as many games played.
However, the Golden Knights will have to get past 29-22-3 Pittsburgh to do that, and beating the Penguins has been a tough ask of late. Making the matchup even more exciting, it puts Fleury and his defense even more at the center of attention, as the Pens’ offense is absolutely dominating lately.
Since January 23, no offense has been as imposing as Pittsburgh’s. Led by the incredible efforts of F Evgeni Malkin, the Pens are averaging a league-leading 4.4 goals per game in that time, almost half a goal more than Toronto and Washington’s imposing attacks.
In his last five games played, Malkin has been the most frightening goalscorer in the NHL, posting 8-3-11 totals (the most goals and points in the league in that time) to average over two points per game to increase his season totals to 29-31-60. Making the Penguins even more intimidating, RW Phil Kessel (2-7-9), C Sidney Crosby (0-7-7) and W Bryan Rust (3-2-5) all join Malkin in averaging at least a point per game, giving Pittsburgh three explosive lines.
For those wondering, 17-12-1 Murray has been decent of late too. Even though his defense has allowed a terrible 34.8 shots against per game over this run, he’s won both his starts with a .92 save percentage and 3 GAA. He’ll need to be better against a Vegas offense that ranks second-best on the season (3.37 goals per game), but he’s well rested since his last showing was February 2 against the Capitals.
The Penguins made their trip to The Silver State on December 14, but they didn’t receive very warm hospitality. Behind a 24-save performance by First Star Fleury in his first game back from a concussion, the Golden Knights claimed a 2-1 victory.
This is going to be an emotional game for Fleury, Penguins fans and probably a few of the Pens as well. The team that can put the tears behind them fastest will likely come out the winners, which is why I’m leaning towards the Penguins’ offense taking two points this evening.
With a two-goal, three-point night from First Star of the Game F William Nylander, the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Anaheim Ducks 7-4 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Air Canada Centre.
There may have been 11 goals struck in this game, but almost all of them were scored in the final two periods. Second Star C Auston Matthews (F Zach Hyman and Nylander) registered the lone tally, burying a wrap-around shot 6:32 into the game.
One intermission is all this contest needed to find the wild side. A whopping six goals were buried in the middle frame, starting with C Ryan Getzlaf‘s (Third Star F Rickard Rakell and W Corey Perry) wrist shot 43 seconds after play resumed to level the game at 1-1. Toronto answered back 5:09 later thanks to Nylander’s (D Jake Gardiner) first goal of the night, but the game was tied once again only 2:31 after the horn stopped blaring due to a Rakell (Getzlaf and Perry) backhanded shot.
With F Leo Komarov in the penalty box for hi-sticking D Kevin Bieksa, Anaheim took its first lead in the game when W Ondrej Kase (Perry and W Jakob Silfverberg) scored a power play wrister with 8:54 remaining in the period, setting the score at 3-2. However, it was a case of “whatever you can do, I can do better” as F Mitch Marner (C Nazem Kadri and LW James van Riemsdyk) took advantage of LW Nick Ritchie serving a slashing penalty against D Roman Polalk by scoring a power play snap shot of his own 4:22 later. Komarov (Gardiner and Kadri) completed the period’s scoring with 2:20 remaining, setting the score at 4-3 in favor of the Leafs with a snapper.
After a wild second period, there was no chance the Ducks were going to allow that score to stand. Rakell (Perry and D Josh Manson) tied the game at 4-4 with a wrister 2:07 into the frame, but that turned out to be Anaheim’s final goal of the night. That set up Nylander’s (Gardiner) second tally of the match to be the game-winner.
A sloppy pass by D Brandon Montour intended for Silfverberg ended up on Gardiner’s stick, and the Leaf knew exactly what to do with the gift. Spotting Nylander tearing towards the offensive zone, the defenseman ripped a perfect blue line-to-blue line pass to set up a one-on-one opportunity for the 21-year-old, which he used to beat G Ryan Miller glove side.
Insurance goals from Matthews (RW Kasperi Kapanen) and Hyman (RW Connor Brown and Matthews) sealed the Leafs’ victory, keeping them within three points of the Bruins in the race for second place in the Atlantic Division.
Though he didn’t start the game, G Curtis McElhinney earned the victory after saving 15-of-16 shots faced (.938 save percentage), leaving the loss to Miller, who saved 33-of-39 (.846). McElhinney replaced G Frederik Andersen with 6:15 remaining in the second period after taking a kick to the head from Perry. He saved 25-of-28 shots faced (.893) for no decision.
Winners of five of the last six games in the DtFR Game of the Day series, the 65-38-15 home teams are absolutely rolling of late. With the Leafs’ victory, the hosts now have a 25-point advantage over the visitors.
The Skills Competition and All-Star Game were fun, but it’s time to get back to business. After all, the trade deadline is only 27 days away!
We have a full Tuesday schedule, as only seven teams are inactive this evening. As usual, the action begins at 7 p.m. with a half-dozen games (Anaheim at Boston [SN1], New Jersey at Buffalo, Florida at the New York Islanders, San Jose at Pittsburgh, Ottawa at Carolina [RDS2] and Minnesota at Columbus), followed an hour later by three more (Montréal at St. Louis [RDS/TSN2], Chicago at Nashville [NBCSN/TVAS] and Tampa Bay at Winnipeg). 8:30 p.m. marks the puck drop of Los Angeles at Dallas, while Vegas at Calgary waits half an hour before getting underway. Finally, Colorado visits Vancouver at 10 p.m. to close out the night’s festivities. All times Eastern.
Coming into the season, two of tonight’s games stood out above the rest…
- Chicago at Nashville: Who can forget the Preds’ run to the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals? It all began with a four-game sweep of the Hawks.
- Vegas at Calgary: Before becoming the unofficial captain of the Golden Knights, D Deryk Engelland was a three-year member of the Flames. Tonight is his first return to the Saddledome since being selected in the Expansion Draft.
Considering how important Engelland was during the opening weeks of the season in Las Vegas and that he’s the Golden Knights’ unofficial captain – not to mention that it should be a strong matchup – I think we need to make a trip to Southern Alberta.
Though the Golden Knights have existed for only this season, Engelland’s history in the city of Las Vegas extends well beyond that.
The defenseman was selected in the sixth round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft by New Jersey, but he never signed a contract with the Devils. Instead he played five total seasons with the Moose Jaw Warriors in the WHL until he aged out and turned pro during the 2003-’04 season, signing with the Las Vegas Wranglers, Calgary’s brand-new ECHL affiliate.
That’s right, Engelland has been a part of two Sin City expansion teams. Players can play their entire career without seeing a single franchise added to the NHL, but he’s had the pleasure of greeting one city for the first time twice.
Engelland played a total of 107 games for the Wranglers in two seasons – including helping them to second in the Pacific Division in their inaugural season – before moving on to the South Carolina Stingrays and Hershey Bears in the Capitals’ system for the 2005-’06 season. However, he undoubtedly looks back on his time in Vegas fondly not only because of the start of his career, but also because he met his wife during his first stint in the desert.
Engelland eventually made his NHL debut during the 2009-’10 season with Pittsburgh at 27-years-old, and he secured a full-time spot on the Penguins’ roster from 2010 through the 2013-’14 season, after which he elected to sign a three-year, $8.75 million contract with the Flames as a free agent.
What a naughty thing for a boy born in Edmonton to do.
Engelland’s first season in Calgary was almost certainly one of the worst years of his career (double agent for the Oilers, maybe?). He posted only .14 points per game (tied with his 42-game 2012-’13 season in Pittsburgh for the worst of his career) and he provided only one point of the Flames’ 97 in the standings according to Hockey Reference’s point share statistic.
Things could only go up from there, and they certainly did. Engelland’s offensive production increased every season he wore the flaming C, to the point that he also earned a flaming A as a temporary alternate captain last season. In all, he posted 4-12-16 totals in 81 games last season with the Flames and was directly responsible for 3.9 of Calgary’s 94 points in the standings according to Hockey Reference.
As for how he ended up back in Vegas, the free agent was selected in the Expansion Draft by the Golden Knights and signed to a one-year, $2 million contract (he signed a one-year, $2.5 million extension earlier this month to remain with the club through next season), but that’s not what makes his impact on the team and community important.
There’s no doubt Engelland has been doing his share on the ice to make the Knights the best expansion team ever, but he’s also been a big part of why the community has embraced the club so well.
After the horrendous events on the Las Vegas Strip on October 1 (only three days before the NHL’s Opening Day), the Golden Knights turned their home debut on October 10 into an emotional and empowering memorial for the over 900 victims, as well as honoring the all the first responders.
Given his connections with the city, there was no one better to play a pivotal role in that ceremony than Engelland, who assured everyone in attendance that the team was with the citizens of Las Vegas in being Vegas Strong.
Saying 25-16-8 Calgary is red hot might be the most overused joke in the game, but it doesn’t make the fact any less true. The Flames earned points in all 11 games leading up to the All-Star Break with a 7-0-4 record, and that success has propelled them into third place in the Pacific Division.
I’ve said it the last few times we’ve featured the Flames, but it bears repeating: 20-13-6 G Mike Smith is the biggest reason for this surge. Even though his defense corps has allowed a fifth-worst 34.55 shots against-per-game since New Year’s Eve, he’s managed a .943 save percentage and 1.84 GAA during that stretch – both of which rank in the top-four in the league among the 27 goalies with at least seven starts – to improve his season marks to .926 and 2.39 (the sixth and ninth-best marks in the NHL, respectively).
That’s meant that Calgary has allowed an average of only two goals per game, the third-best mark in the league in that time.
However, there have still been peaks and valleys during this run, and Calgary definitely ended the unofficial first half of the season in one of those valleys. Though they earned points in their final four games, the Flames have ended all of those contests on the losing end, falling twice in overtime and twice in the shootout.
Smith is certainly not to blame, as Calgary still averaged only two goals against over its last four games – the (t)second-best mark in the NHL since January 20.
Instead, it’s been the offense that has really dropped the
ball puck in the last 10 days.
For this entire point streak, the Flames have averaged three goals per game – the (t)12th-best mark in the NHL since New Year’s Eve. However, even with offensive weapons like LW Johnny Gaudreau – whose 41 assists and 56 points are fifth and and (t)seventh-most in the league, respectively – the Flames have managed only 1.5 goals per game over their past four contests – the (t)second-worst average in the league since January 20.
For the Flames’ sake, hopefully the All-Star Break provided the rest Calgary’s forwards needed so they can get back to torching goaltenders like they’d been doing all January.
Of course, no matter how happy Calgarians are for Engelland and that he is back in town, I’d venture to bet they aren’t excited he’s bringing the Western Conference-leading 32-12-4 Golden Knights with him.
However, considering how well almost everything has gone for Vegas this season, perhaps there’s no better time than now to square off against the Knights, who posted only a 3-2-1 record in their last six games leading into the All-Star Break.
What’s really impressive over these six games is that three teams not from Vegas were able to come away with two points. Since January 16, the Knights’ defense has allowed the fifth-fewest shots against (27.83 per game) and the (t)fifth-fewest goals (two per game), while the offense has tacked on an average of 3.17 goals to rank eighth-best.
Numbers like those aren’t beat often.
As for the most impressive of those, I’m of the school of thought that it has to be the defense. Whether it’s the success of W William Carrier (averaging four hits per game in his list six appearances), C William Karlsson (10 takeaways in the last six games) or D Brayden McNabb (three blocks per game over this run) – or more likely a combination of their stellar efforts – they’re keeping pucks off 12-4-2 G Marc-Andre Fleury.
Considering Fleury’s .942 season save percentage and 1.77 GAA are both second-best in the NHL, he doesn’t need all that much help to have a stellar night. Mix in Vegas’ impressive defense, and we have the blueprint for how the Golden Knights have found so much success (it doesn’t hurt to have Karlsson’s 27 goals either, the [t]second-most in the league).
Tonight is the first all-time meeting between these clubs, but they’ll get to know each other well soon enough. Calgary and Vegas will play a total of four games this season, including the final game of the regular season for both squads on April 7.
Coming off a four-day break, it’s hard to predict how teams will return to action. The rest can be positive, or the lull in action can ruin the positive groove a team was in. With that in mind, I’m leaning towards the Golden Knights winning tonight’s game, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Calgary finds a way to earn a point and force overtime.
There may not be many games going on today, but at least they’re all being broadcast nationally.
Most of the night’s action drops the puck at 7:30 p.m. this evening, as two (Vegas at Florida [SN360/TVAS] and Montréal at Washington [NHLN/RDS/TSN2]) of the three games get underway. Finally, Los Angeles at Anaheim (NBCSN) closes out the night’s festivities with a rivalry game at 10 p.m. All times Eastern.
Teams on the bye: Calgary, Carolina, Chicago, Edmonton, Minnesota, Vancouver and Winnipeg.
Now, I know that the Freeway Face-Off is taking place today and both teams are on the cusp of playoff position, but there’s one game that has really attracted my attention.
Featuring this game provides us the enjoyable opportunity of looking back at the Panthers’ decisions over the past year and judging them.
If that doesn’t sound like fun, I don’t know what is.
Gerard Gallant was named the head coach of the Florida Panthers before the 2014-’15 season. The season before, Florida had posted an ugly 29-45-8 record to finish seventh in the Atlantic Division, a whopping 27 points behind Detroit for the second wild card.
While the Panthers didn’t do much climbing in the division standings (they only advanced to sixth in the Atlantic), Gallant’s first year as head coach saw the club improve to 38-29-15, their first winning record since claiming the Southeast Division in 2011-’12.
That growth continued into the 2015-’16 campaign, which was easily his best during his tenure in Florida. The Panthers exploded to a 47-26-9 record to raise their second division banner in franchise history and finish third in the Eastern Conference. One of Florida’s major acquisitions that season was trading RW Jimmy Hayes to Boston for W Reilly Smith. Smith was an instant success in the Sunshine State, as he posted a career-best 25 goals en route to 50 points, finishing sixth on the team in scoring.
Though the young Panthers fell in six games to C John Tavares‘ Islanders in the first round, excitement surrounded the team for their future.
With the Panthers seemingly on the rise, they signed then 26-year-old F Jon Marchessault to a two-year, $1.5 million deal after not being offered a contract by Tampa Bay following three years with the organization. As indicated by where Marchessault plays now (the same almost certainly applies to Smith, but more on that in a minute), it seems Gallant saw potential in a player that had posted only 8-11-19 totals in 49 NHL games, which was realized by Marchessault’s impressive 2016-’17 campaign.
However, a simple slow start of 11-10-1 in 2016 is all it took for Florida General Manager Tom Rowe to fire Gallant and literally desert him at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. after the Panthers lost to the Hurricanes 3-2. How firing the winningest coach in franchise history a year after he led the team to its highest heights since the improbable run to the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals, not to mention that he coached the Atlantic All-Star team, makes sense still baffles the imagination of many outside the Panthers’ front office.
At the time of Gallant’s firing, Marchessault had posted solid 10-7-17 totals through 22 games played, well better than Smith’s 4-3-7 effort in the same amount of time. Even with Rowe assuming coaching duties for the remainder of the season, Marchessault would score a team-high 30 goals and tack on 21 assists for a third-best 51 points in 75 games – all career bests for a player in only his second full season in the NHL. However, Florida returned to sixth in the Atlantic Division with only a 35-36-11 record, 14 points behind second wildcard Toronto. Obviously, the decline was on Gallant and Smith’s shoulders, as Smith finished with only 15-22-37 totals.
After going unsigned for the remainder of the 2016-’17 season, Gallant was hired as head coach of the Vegas Golden Knights on April 13, 2017, allowing him the opportunity to work with General Manager George McPhee to build the exact team he wanted from a blank slate – a luxury afforded to very few in the world of professional sports.
Having recent experience with the Panthers’ system, it’s no surprise that Gallant would do everything in his power to get his favorite players from that team. However, I’d bet that even he didn’t predict his good fortune when General Manager Dale Tallon – the same person responsible for signing Gallant to the Panthers in 2014 – agreed to trade Smith to Vegas in exchange for the Golden Knights drafting Marchessault in the 2017 Expansion Draft and a measly fourth-round draft pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.
Call me crazy, but perhaps it shouldn’t have ever been a surprise that 30-11-3 Vegas is doing so well. Marchessault (16-26-42 totals) and Smith (12-24-36) are both among the top-four point earners for the Knights with the same head coach that led them to glory on the opposite side of the country. Marchessualt has since signed a six-year, $30 million extension with the Golden Knights. That means he and Smith, who came to Vegas with five years remaining on a five-year, $25 million deal will be together through the 2021-’22 season.
Compare that to 18-19-6 Florida’s situation in fourth to last in both the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference and it makes clear sense why Rowe is no longer the Panthers’ general manager (however, he’s still in Florida’s front office… I wish I had that kind of job security).
Imagining what could have been for the Panthers if Rowe hadn’t screwed everything up by chasing some analytical dream is truly disparaging (and I’m not even a Panthers fan!), and that point will be made even more clear this evening with all the former Panthers in town.
After losing in regulation Tuesday, the Western Conference-leading Golden Knights are looking forward to getting their next winning streak started. Vegas has earned points in four of its past five games, and it owes all its success to 10-3-2 G Marc-Andre Fleury and his defense.
Fleury has been stellar all year. After all, his .945 season save percentage and 1.72 GAA are both best in the league among all 66 netminders with at least four starts to their credit (okay, St. Louis’ 10-3-1 G Carter Hutton has matched Fleury’s GAA on the year). However, Fleury has somehow found an even higher level to play at, as he’s posted an incredible .948 save percentage and 1.51 GAA in his last four starts.
While Fleury has been so good that the word solid doesn’t do him justice, he’s also had the luxury of playing behind an impressive defense. Over their last five games, the Golden Knights have allowed an average of only 29.4 shots against, the seventh-best mark in the NHL since January 5. Whether its been LW William Carrier and D Brayden McNabb‘s 3.6 hits-per-game, D Deryk Engelland‘s two blocks-per-game or C William Karlsson‘s six takeaways over this stretch – or simply the Knights’ impressive offense keeping the puck out of the defensive zone – Vegas is making it easy for the face of their franchise to shine like a jewel in the desert.
Of note, Fleury led the Golden Knights to a 4-1 victory yesterday in Tampa Bay, so it would seem likely that 11-2-0 G Malcolm Subban will draw the start this evening. Subban has posted a .918 save percentage and 2.38 GAA in 13 starts this season.
Meanwhile, the struggle continues for the Panthers, who have posted only a 1-3-1 record over their past five games. While they haven’t been very impressive on either end of the ice, the biggest issues of last have been on the defensive end of the rink.
With 6-6-1 G Roberto Luongo still on injured reserve with a lower-body injury, 12-12-5 G James Reimer has started every game since the December 4. Before this rough patch since January 2, he’d actually been having success to the point that he had earned a 7-3-1 record since assuming starting duties – including a five-game winning streak.
However, the new year has not treated him well, as he’s managed only a .894 save percentage and 3.46 GAA in the Panthers’ last five games.
The reason for Reimer’s decline is obvious. The line about him starting every game since the beginning of December was not hyperbole: he’s literally started Florida’s last 16 games, including both ends of two back-to-backs. Fortunately for the Panthers, this is their first game coming off a six-day bye, so Reimer will be well-rested and ready to go.
However, if they’re going to continue riding their backup so hard, perhaps the Panthers’ defense could help him out and keep pucks away from him. Since January 2, Florida’s defense has allowed an average of 33.4 shots against per game, the 10th-highest in the league in that time.
D Aaron Ekblad may average two blocks per game over this run, D Alex Petrovic 2.8 hits per game and F Vincent Trocheck five takeways since January 2, but something has to change to keep Reimer alive until Luongo returns – especially since rookie G Harri Sateri is currently serving as backup. In essence, this fourth-worst 3.8 goals against-per-game since January 2 falls on the Panthers’ defense.
Florida has already made its trip out to T-Mobile Arena on December 17, and Rowe was justifiably embarrassed as his Panthers lost 5-2. Oh, and who led the way scoring in that game? First Star of the Game Marchessault (1-2-3 totals) and Smith (0-2-2).
We didn’t even talk about Vegas’ well-documented offense. With that corps going against the Panthers’ defense, it’s hard to believe the Panthers will be able to put up much of a fight tonight.
On the night of C Eric Lindros‘ number retirement, the Philadelphia Flyers completed their season sweep of the Toronto Maple Leafs, beating them in overtime 3-2 at Wells Fargo Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
This contest was a defensive affair at the start, as neither club could register more than nine shots on goal in the first period. As a result, the score read the same during the first intermission as it did at the opening puck drop: 0-0.
However, that all changed in the blink of an eye in the second frame. RW Connor Brown (F Zach Hyman) broke the draw on a wrist shot with 7:03 remaining in the period, followed only 28 seconds later by C Frederik Gauthier‘s (W Matt Martin and D Jake Gardiner) first goal of the season to set the score at 2-0.
Philadelphia finally got on the scoreboard at the 1:33 mark of the third period, courtesy of an unassisted wrap-around shot by Third Star of the Game F Nolan Patrick. Though F Jori Lehtera tried to give the game away by interfering with Gauthier only 34 seconds later, W Wayne Simmonds (F Valtteri Filppula and D Andrew MacDonald) found a way to bury a shorthanded snap shot at the 3:25 mark, leveling the score at two-all.
Though neither team was able to score in the remainder of regulation, it didn’t take long for First Star C Sean Couturier (F Travis Konecny and Second Star G Michal Neuvirth) to win the game in overtime. The play started when Neuvirth made a pad save on C Auston Matthews. Konecny corralled the loose puck and began racing up the right boards. With two Maple Leafs closing in on him near the right face-off dot, he split his defenders with a pass to Couturier in the left face-off circle, setting up Philly’s leading scorer with a one-on-one opportunity against G Frederik Andersen. Couturier slung his wrist shot to the far post, ending the game in the Flyers’ favor.
Neuvirth earned the victory after saving 29-of-31 shots faced (.935 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Andersen, who saved 34-of-37 (.919).
The 58-34-12 home teams are reestablishing their dominance in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as they’re now riding a three-game winning streak. They now hold a 23 point lead on the visitors in the series.
The Western Conference leading Vegas Golden Knights entered their bye week at exactly 41 games played.
Due to an unintentional– completely accidental– oversight on my behalf, I didn’t remember to look at their stats after 40 games played (like I normally would every 20 games throughout the season). But for the perfectionists in the world out there– it’s better to split things right down the middle.
Vegas is back in action for the second half of their inaugural season on Saturday after going 29-10-2 (60 points) in their first 41 games in franchise history.
Earlier in the week, I pointed out that the New Jersey Devils have been quite a pleasant surprise this season. Of course, I made sure to mention the Golden Knights as one of the other pleasant surprises.
It’s not that nobody expected this team to fail as much as all the other expansion teams in the 100-year history of the league.
Given the talent pool to choose from and the overall development of professional hockey players/the league itself since the 1990s (it’s a younger, faster, game where great players last well into their 30s and good players are buried in the AHL or playing overseas by the time they’re 30-35 years old), it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Golden Knights are at the very least, a competitive– young– team.
Even still, it’s been quite the euphoric ride.
A team that poached the Florida Panthers– and many others– at the 2017 Expansion Draft, laid the foundation in 50-plus point scorer, Jon Marchessault, let alone with three-time Stanley Cup champion goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury. Surely they would have some highlights in their first season.
Nobody could’ve imagined that same team would be seriously considering keeping Fleury or a guy like James Neal at the trade deadline in the midst of what could shape up to be a long playoff run in their first season, but alas, here we are.
It’s more than just “Real Deal” James Neal in Sin City. The Golden Knights are the real deal.
And their forecasted stats for the remaining half of the regular season show it. Though now is about the time where I make sure to mention one little standard disclaimer– my degree is in communication– not math– so any miscalculations or accolades that seem nearly impossible to ascertain are Microsoft Excel’s fault.
Vegas Golden Knights Projections Through 41 Games (41 Games Remaining)
Simply put, Erik Haula (26-24–50 expected totals), William Karlsson (32-23–55 expected totals) and Marchessault (30-38–68 expected totals) are blazing through the rest of the league and showing no signs of flaming out any time soon.
On defense, Deryk Engelland, Colin Miller, Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore have been leading the charge from the blue line all season long. For Engelland, the adopted son of Las Vegas, a revitalized season defending the league’s newest team might just keep him playing in his backyard for longer than just this season.
Miller and Schmidt were expected to take on more pronounced top-4 roles with the expectation that at least one of them would develop into a surefire top-2 shutdown defenseman. Miller should max out around 40 points, while Schmidt should put up a cool 30-point season in his first year outside of the United States capital.
After being sent to the AHL early on in the season, Shea Theodore was only motivated to work harder.
It wasn’t that he was not desired by an NHL team as clearly Vegas saw value in his game at the Expansion Draft, claiming Theodore from the Anaheim Ducks. Now that the Golden Knights front office and coaches have righted their wrong, Theodore could very well put up 24 points on the season in what is– by all means– a breakout season for the defenseman entering his prime.
In the net, the Golden Knights have been spectacular. Not only has general manager, George McPhee, come away looking even more like the genius that he already is, but Vegas is stacked at depth in the crease.
Malcolm Subban‘s playing like a backup that’s capable of taking on a starting role. That’ll be something to keep an eye on, given Fleury’s aging out of his prime– though he has yet to show it. It’s not often that a team has the right pieces to play two goalies almost equally in minutes and be successful.
Thomas played his last game as a Bruin in 2012. Luongo was traded by the Canucks in 2014– a year after Vancouver dumped Schneider in New Jersey.
Two tremendous goalies are better than one from a team record standpoint, but at some point general managers are either forced with a difficult decision due to the salary cap or fall into the fallacy that is the “there can only be one” mantra.
And Gerard Gallant might end up with some tough decisions down the stretch regarding who to start each night, reminiscent of Mike Sullivan‘s Fleury-Matt Murray swapping during en route to Pittsburgh’s 2016 and 2017 Stanley Cup championships.
Nonetheless, Oscar Dansk filled in flawlessly when Fleury and Subban were out of the lineup with injuries. Meanwhile, Maxime Lagace performed on another level shortly after Dansk’s introduction to the game when Dansk went down himself due to injury.
With enough depth in goal to try to get something good in return, the ball is in Vegas’s court as the trade deadline approaches. Though the Golden Knights don’t have to rush things. A little competition for every goaltending job isn’t always a bad thing.
Being in first place in the Western Conference isn’t good enough for the Golden Knights. They’ve got their sights set even higher, like on a 2018 Stanley Cup Final run, for instance.
Sin City is looking to shine like gold. Vegas wants the Cup.